Craving a countercultural Christmas

My Christmas Every Day experiment is starting to get awkward.

Advent hasn’t even started yet, but Christmas’ crazed and over-weight relative Consumerism is already in town, on the news, and wasting your gasoline and money as he drives all around town shopping.

Meanwhile, I’m crowding with others in the cozy chapel, savoring peace and quiet and adoring God’s goodness while we pray for wisdom about how to revive radical Gospel living.

My Christmas ever day experiment is not about Santas, shopping, or catchy commercials. Yet, while these things become more prevalent, I am becoming afraid that any uttering of “Merry Christmas” that I make might be mistaken for an approval of the petty parts of the holiday happening prematurely. The truth is that I really do not approve of any Christmas consumerism or other commotion that distracts from Jesus Christ.

Last week one one of my students innocently asked me a very normal question.  He poked his head through my classroom door while he waited for his bus after school.  “Sister,” he said “are you going shopping on Black Friday?”  He was probably trying to spark a conversation.

I was impolite. “Ha, that might be one of the funniest questions I have been asked all year! Why would you ever think I would do that!?”  I honestly thought he was joking.

Of course, it only occurred to me much later that the student was asking a very ordinary, culturally appropriate question.  And, I realized, my response may have seemed a bit uncultured, bizarre or down-right rude. (God have mercy!)

I shuddered with shame as I realized my insensitivity.  The thing is, the kid pushed my button. I assumed the student knew me and that I am trying to live a counter-cultural life, understood all my values, and in spite of his youth, he was already dissecting the cultural norms that conflict with Christianity.  He’s a smart kid— so, fair mistake, right?!

All of the emphasis on materialism this time of year really does make me squirm.  I am pretty sure I saw my first Christmas commercial that reminded people about layaway back in September.  I probably could have given out Christmas candy for Halloween, if only I had I asked a shopkeeper for some, since candy canes appeared on the shelves right on November 1st.  And now, even though we’re still in November, jolly Christmas carols seem to be chiming through speakers all around town trying to get us in the mood to shop, shop, shop.  I even heard a radio show host joking about how Christmas already came and went, since it happens around Veteran’s Day now.

If holiday seasons are supposed to stick to a schedule, we have reasons to be disturbed.

Or, more importantly, when we remember what Christmas is really all about, we have reasons to resist.

Christmas everyday, and Christmas in general, is all about celebrating the Incarnation.  Love was made manifest in human flesh. Jesus Christ is God and God came to earth in the most humble and simple of ways. There’s generosity, joy, community, peace, trust, lots of love and pure, human fun wrapped up in the real meaning of  the ancient story of Christ’s coming:

This is the type of Christmas I am craving and I am committed to carrying out through the end of 2013: a counter-cultural and communal Christ-centered celebration! I hope you would join me, even though I’ll admit it’s much easier to talk about these ideas than to do them, when consumerism’s temptations are around every corner.

Here’s how:

  • Collecting donations for anyone who needs anything: some of my students hosted a food drive last week and will host another one in December.
  • Honoring children: I am eager to spend time with my godchildren and if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas I’m ready to tell them that I want donations to Tubman House for Christmas.
  • Praying for peace: several times a day, especially during my assigned adoration hours.
  • Connecting to the tough parts in the Christmas story: advocating for immigration reform and standing up for anyone who is oppressed by violence.
  • Spreading the Love: telling teens that they matter and I care about them, writing letters and cards, and being intentional about how I spend time with others.
  • Hosting some celebrations : a Christmas party in my classroom on behalf of the orphans at Casa Hogar and hopefully hosting a gathering with other friends.
  • Getting creative about how I give presents: re-gifting, buying things at thrift stores, making DIY crafts  out of stuff I have around home, utilizing some of the resources from “Buy Nothing Christmas” and baking goodies to share.
  • Resisting Black Friday: I shall instead celebrate Buy Nothing Day and I’m thinking about joining in on a protest, fast, or at least I’ll send a message of support to those who protest for just wages.

What will you do to resist Christmas’ consumerism and focus on the real reasons for the season?

Zenta 2013, Buy Nothing Day, Adbusters

Merry Christmas everyone!!

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  1. Julia…. thank you for your story about the young student who asked the question about shopping. I can just hear my nieces/nephews asking me the same thing. They so dearly want to engage their loved ones in conversation. This Thanksgiving , I’ll respond with gentleness. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Julia, I love your passion and commitment to the spiritual side of Christmas. However, you just posted on FB the picture of Pope Francis in a hard hat and his exhortation on the value of work. No purchases of goods and services means no jobs for many people, particularly people of limited education or skills. So, what if the commitment is to get people to spend as many minutes in personal prayer as they do in dollars (or cents!) on gifts? What if we could get people to purchase gifts that had meaning to the giver and the receiver and not just the most expensive, most popular item on the Santa list? How do we make sure that your people at Tubman House have jobs and the world gets a spiritual life, too? This is definitely messy Jesus business . . . and it is worth the struggle! Keep it up!!

    1. Thank you Sisters, for your comments & thank you Sister Kathleen for your comment too, about what I understand to be the complexity involved in trying to stir up some paradigm shifts by offering alternative gift/trade economies, etc. I am looking forward to reading Pope Francis’ encyclical this weekend to see if he offers any Gospel-focused solutions to the problems of capitalism and the way that we are often living under the illusion that our purchases of standard goods helps others. I totally believe in the dignity of work, I just think that most dignified work is service based. In fact, most of the production and sales of goods only causes those who rich to get richer (while those who are poor get poorer) and destruct Earth. If buying things IS what we must do, then let’s please oh please buy fair trade goods or pay people we know who are in need of money to make things for us. Thanks, Blessings & Merry Christmas!! < PEACE.

  3. Julia, Fabulous response! Thanks for being such a wonderfully thoughtful role model for all of us who are trying to live simply and to allow other to simply live! Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Julia Walsh:Good Point.I have thought and prayed about this for a long time.There are several holidays in our “Happy Holidays” at this time of year.I have perceived among them at least two kinds of Christmas.There is a secular and there is a sacred Christmas.I enjoy both.For most of my years on this earth the two have been close and good companions.The Spirit of the sacred infused and empowered the more earthly element as we of the clay are uplifted and empowered by the Spirit of God.Over time there has been a separation of Christmas and Christ,with an elevation of the secular “politically safe” version,rooted in consumerism, that has become more and more driven by economic considerations.There is still goodness there.There is enjoyment,employment,and fun.It just is not the same holiday.Good is not synonymous with holy.God came down to earth to become incarnate through the Virgin Mary.To me this holiday is the celebration of that holy birth.I choose this time of year to welcome Him with feasting and song and gifts and prayer and service and joyful contemplation:And that is my Christmas.

  5. Hi S. Julia,

    I thought you might enjoy these thoughts on Christmas. They’re from the speech that kicked off the 21st Century Freedom Ride in Durham, NC last December (as written about on a blog called “Don’t Eat Alone: Thoughts on Food, Faith, Family and Friends” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham):

    “Fifty years on and the work of equality and justice is far from done. When Rev. William Barber, the President of the North Carolina NAACP, stood up to speak, he wound those statistics into the season…

    He spoke brilliantly about Christmas being an “ugly story” of a poor and pregnant woman in her eighth month being forced to ride across the desert to pay taxes because the king wanted more; a violent story of a king who was willing to profile and kill all of the baby boys because he wanted to hold on to power; a compelling story because it calls us to trust in transformation: “Sometimes,” he said, “the people we look at most suspiciously might be our saviors.” He returned to talking about the challenge of dealing with the injustice in our country embedded in race and poverty and said, ‘This IS Bethlehem. If you’re not challenging injustice, you’re not celebrating Christmas.’”

    Your year-long celebration has been inspiring! And thank you for bringing Kathy Kelly to speak at the FSC!

    Peace and blessings,